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Bedlam on Land and Sea

Tue, 07/09/2019 - 16:42
John and Gretchen Mannix of Amagansett had what he described as an “epic old-school day at Gardiner’s,” catching 20 schoolie stripers in the cuts off Cartwright Shoal with Capt. Merritt White on July 3.
Capt. Merritt White

What was I thinking? 

This column, penned for so many decades by various writers in this long-established newspaper, has been aptly named “On the Water.” It’s a pretty clear and accurate description of its intended content and hopefully the audience appreciates its narrative for better or worse. 

The column does not look at the latest food craze or restaurants that opened, what trends are going on in the luxury real estate market, or who was arrested after a long night of barhopping. No, it’s primarily focused on the various activities surrounding the fresh and saltwater fishing scene, recreational and commercial.

Some columns will deviate at times to ventures such as sailing, handling a kayak in a creek, surfing the latest curl at Ditch Plain, or even fantasy (why haven’t I landed a fluke over 10 pounds?). But the crux of it all is most certainly meant to be aquatic in nature. 

Since I have been the author of this column for the past few years, you would assume I would adhere to these parameters and actually be on the water during the July Fourth holiday period. Sure, the waterways are more crowded and the boat wakes more frequent, but you know it will be much better than being on terra firma dealing with the insufferable traffic.

So, what was I doing last Friday afternoon triple-parked in the CVS parking lot in Southampton? I have no clue, other than to say that I would rather have been just about anywhere else on this planet than trapped in that asphalt nightmare. 

Driving to Southampton was bad enough, epic in fact. But witnessing the circus-like antics of people trying to find a parking spot was worthy of a reality TV show. Horns blared, hand and finger gestures were forceful, and screams of anger containing the latest R-rated movie language. 

I retold my story to a few friends the following morning over coffee. One of them mentioned that he took three neophytes out for a few hours of local porgy fishing. “The fishing was good,” he said. “But we nearly got swamped by boat wake. There were so many boats out. It was crazy.”

Hearing this, I could only think that I would still rather be on the water. Boat traffic aside, I know I can always find some solitude in a back cove or creek. Even with the huge crowds and lack of patience witnessed last week, there are 

still ways to enjoy time away from the mass of humanity.

For the next Fourth of July holiday, I just hope someone will hide my car keys from me.

“I’ve never seen such traffic in my life out here,” an exasperated Ken Morse, the owner of Tight Lines Tackle in Sag Harbor, exclaimed. “I mean, it was just bedlam.”

Morse confirmed that the traffic on the water was equally high and that fish catches were off due to the increased activity. “Bluefish cooperated at Jessup’s Neck and some kingfish have shown up of late,” he said. “Bass fishing in the Race was good, and blue-claw crab season has gotten off to a good start.” I can personally confirm this, as I captured about a dozen large male crabs from my two traps on Saturday. Crab cakes for dinner can certainly ease any holiday tension.

Harvey Bennett, in business at the Tackle Shop in Amagansett for nearly 40 years, said the holiday traffic was the worst he ever witnessed. “But the fishing was good.” He remarked that fluke fishing remained solid at Napeague and at Gardiner’s Island and that porgies, blowfish, and squid can be had in Fort Pond Bay. Want bluefish? Bennett said that big ones were off Devon and Cartwright, and that striped bass and weakfish have been consistent from Indian Wells eastward. 

“Don’t forget freshwater, either,” he added. “Hidden Pond in Hither Hills has been hot for largemouth bass and the carp fishing has been insane at Hook Pond.” 

Sebastian Gorgone of Mrs. Sam’s Bait and Tackle in East Hampton agreed about the horrific state of traffic last week. That said, the veteran owner reported that business was better than brisk. “I basically sold out of all my porgy rigs,” he said with a smile. “And those who went out to fish were generally rewarded with good catches.” Gorgone said that fluke, porgy, blowfish, and sea bass catches were good and that bass and blues made a few passes on the ocean beaches. 

“Bass fishing has been pretty good of late,” remarked Capt. Barry Kohlus of the charter boat Venture, which sails out of Montauk. “But I’m seeing a lot of pressure on the fish.” Kohlus, who has been taking fares out for over 50 years, recalls that the summer months used to be spent offshore fishing for tuna and other species, not striped bass.

“Bass used to be a fish pursued in the fall, not summer,” he said. “Tuna fishing was much more consistent back then, but the stocks have thinned out. Today, striped bass fishing is now a full-time summer fishery and the fish are getting hit hard.”

“We’re picking away on the fluke,” said Capt. Mark Ryckman of the Montauk Star. “It’s been more of a case of quality over quantity.” The veteran skipper reports that the typical pool-winning fish usually hovers near the 10-pound range and that nice-size sea bass have been mixed in the catch.

Finally, the ever-popular Montauk Mercury Grand Slam charity tournament, presented by the Kiwanis Club of East Hampton and the Montauk Friends of Erin, will be held on Saturday and Sunday. Proceeds of the tournament, now in its 19th year, benefit youth, families, and senior citizens in the East Hampton community. 

Various prizes and trophies are given for the largest striped bass, sea bass, bluefish, and fluke for recreational, commercial, and party boat divisions. Popular with children, the Wayne Clinch Kids Catch program will offer a new rod and reel and tackle box to 10 lucky kids under 13, and all will be entered in a drawing to win a seven-foot inflatable boat with a Mercury outboard motor. 

In addition, at the awards ceremony late Sunday afternoon, Vincent Grimes will be honored as the Fishing Legend of the Year. Better known as Vinnie, the accolade is well deserved for Grimes, a true Montauk-born and raised legend himself who has touched the surrounding community in so many positive ways for several decades. An article on him appears elsewhere in today’s paper.

All sign-ins and weigh-ins for the tournament will take place at Uihlein’s Marina on West Lake Drive. A fish and chips dinner will be offered from 6 to 8 p.m. on Saturday, while the awards ceremony and live entertainment will commence at 7 p.m. on Sunday. More information can be had by calling Uihlein’s Marina at 631-668-3799.


We welcome your fishing tips, observations, and photographs at [email protected]. You can find the “On the Water” column on Twitter at @ehstarfishing.


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